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How to choose the best Ad Server for Publishers

By Ana Kealy

July 6, 2023

Table of contents:

Publisher ad servers have gained a massive popularity as the perfect platforms to help companies maximize their advertising revenue and streamline their advertising business. With the impending deprecation of third-party cookies and the increasing focus on direct deals, having a reliable and effective ad server has become more important than ever for publishers. In this article, we will explore the key factors to consider when choosing the best publisher ad server for your business.

What is a Publisher Ad Server?

Before we delve into the selection process, let's briefly understand what a publisher ad server is and how it works. A publisher ad server is a self-serve platform that allows digital property owners, known as publishers, to create an enclosed ecosystem where they have full control over their advertising operations. It acts as an interface between the publisher's properties and advertisers, allowing advertisers to access the publisher's inventory based on predefined criteria. This type of ad server is often referred to as a "walled garden" and provides publishers with the flexibility and autonomy to manage their advertising business efficiently. 

How it works:

How the Publisher Ad Server Works

What are the benefits of using a Publisher Ad Server?

Using a customized ad server offers several benefits for publishers:

  • Freeing resources: Automating the advertising process through a self-serve platform, allows publishers to focus on more significant partnerships and revenue-generating projects.
  • Customization: Most publisher ad server providers can deliver a customized solution that mirrors the publisher’s branding.
  • First-party data targeting: The value of the first-party data owned by the publisher can be utilized to enable accurate targeting and retargeting, enhancing the relevance of the ads served. 
  • Complete control: Publisher ad servers empower digital property owners with full control over their advertising business. They can set their own rules, approve or reject advertisers, campaigns or ads.
  • Brand and audience safety: Publishers can protect their brand and audiences from unwanted malware or fraudulent ads by implementing verification methods within the ad server. 
  • Autonomy: Having an independent ad server gives publishers the autonomy to make decisions regarding revenue strategies and technology usage without being subject to external pressures from larger tech companies.

How to choose the best Ad Server for Publishers?

When selecting the best ad server for your publishing business, consider the following factors:

Self-service technology

Look for an ad server that offers a self-serve platform with an intuitive user interface and exceptional user experience. This will allow advertisers to create accounts, set up campaigns, and monitor statistics in real-time without requiring extensive assistance. A self-service platform saves you time and resources while empowering advertisers to optimize their campaigns and increase revenue opportunities.

Hosted vs self-hosted ad server

Decide whether you want to self-host your ad server or use a hosted solution. 

Choosing a hosted third-party ad server can offer significant advantages for publishers. One of the key reasons to opt for a third-party provider like EXADS is the speed and efficiency it brings to the ad server implementation process. By leveraging a hosted solution, publishers can quickly launch their ad server without the need to build everything from scratch. This saves both time and money, as there is no requirement to hire a team of developers or worry about ongoing platform maintenance. Instead, publishers can focus their efforts on attracting advertisers and growing revenue.

While self-hosting provides complete control over the server and data, it comes with the responsibility of managing and maintaining the server infrastructure. This can be a challenging and time-consuming task, especially when issues or glitches arise. On the other hand, a hosted ad server takes care of all the updating, maintenance, and security-related tasks. The server provider ensures that the platform is consistently updated with the latest software updates, security patches, and service packs. This level of support and reliability allows publishers to have peace of mind.

Ad formats

Consider the range of ad formats offered by the ad server. Look for formats that align with your digital properties and user experience. Popular ad formats include:

  • Native ads
  • Sponsored listings
  • Sponsored search 
  • Video ads 
  • Display ads 

There are also providers such as EXADS who offer responsive display ads or multi-format ads and the ability to include custom ad formats via APIs.

Ad formats

Advanced and first-party data targeting

Advanced and custom targeting capabilities allow publishers to deliver highly relevant and personalized ads to their users, improving engagement and conversion rates. Look for an ad server provider that covers a wide spectrum of targeting options such as Browser, Contextual, Time Schedule, Device, Location/GEO, Keyword, Mobile Carrier, Operating System, Behavioral Retargeting, and custom options like key/value targeting.

First-party data refers to the information collected directly from users who interact with a publisher's website or app. It includes data points such as user demographics, browsing behavior, purchase history, and more.

By leveraging first-party data targeting, publishers can unlock valuable insights about their users and use this information to deliver highly targeted and personalized ads. This data can be combined with custom and advanced targeting capabilities to create even more precise audience segments, ensuring that ads are delivered to users who are most likely to engage and convert.

Analytics and reporting

When choosing your publisher ad server, you must look for one that provides robust real-time analytics tools that will help your business but also your advertisers. As a publisher you need to be able to understand what works best for your digital properties. Advanced analytics tools provide in-depth insights into user behavior that help publishers understand how users engage with ads, identify areas for improvement, and optimize accordingly. This is why having access to real-time monitoring is essential for your business. This agility ensures that you can respond to changing market conditions, user behavior, and advertiser demands, effectively.

A good publisher ad server must offer a range of metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) to help advertisers understand how their ads are performing. These metrics can include impressions, clicks, click-through rates (CTRs), conversion rates, revenue generated, and more. By analyzing these metrics, advertisers can assess the effectiveness of their ad placements, creative formats, and targeting strategies.

Brand and audience safety

Ensure that the ad server you choose offers robust brand and audience safety functionalities. Look for features such as ad verification, fraud detection, and malware protection to safeguard your brand reputation and create a secure environment for your audience.

For example, through its integration with AdSecure, EXADS offers a complete range of industry leading solutions to protect publishers from all forms of malvertising and from poor quality ads. This means that you get a 360 degree monitoring and protection for your ad supply chain which helps you automate your ad verification process before ad campaigns go live & while they are running.

Support and Service

A reputable ad server provider understands the unique needs of publishers and offers responsive support channels to address any technical issues or inquiries promptly. This includes access to knowledgeable support teams that can provide guidance, troubleshooting assistance, and best practices for implementing and optimizing ad campaigns.

Beyond technical support, service providers should also offer training resources and educational materials to empower publishers with the necessary skills and knowledge to make the most of their ad serving platforms. This can include documentation, video tutorials, webinars, and community forums where publishers can learn from experts and share insights with peers. Choosing a partner that values customer success and invests in long-term relationships can make a significant difference in a publisher's ad operations and revenue generation.

The most popular Publisher Ad Servers 

The publisher ad server landscape offers a variety of options, each with its own strengths and features. While the best choice depends on the specific needs and goals of a publisher, here are a few examples of ad servers:

  • Google Ad Manager: As a leading ad server, Google Ad Manager offers a comprehensive suite of tools for publishers of all sizes. It provides advanced ad serving capabilities, robust targeting options, and extensive analytics.
  • Kevel is an ad server that provides APIs for publishers to build their own ad serving infrastructure. It offers flexibility and scalability but requires technical resources from the publisher’s team. 
  • AdButler is a popular ad server that is easy to navigate and has self-service capabilities. Although it has competitive features it does not provide advanced targeting and analytics capabilities. 
  • EXADS ad server is a white-label and self service solution that can help publishers to save time and money. The platform is customizable and comes packed with advanced features. 
  • Revive Adserver is the most popular free open-source ad server. To avail of advanced functionalities, it requires time and technical know-how as it needs third party integrations and modules. These additions can also prove costly.

These are just a few examples of the best publisher ad servers available today. Each platform has its unique features, strengths, and pricing models, so publishers should carefully evaluate their specific requirements and priorities before making a decision.


Publishers should choose an ad server based on their specific needs and goals to unlock new revenue opportunities and achieve advertising objectives. The criteria mentioned above can help you in evaluating the options available, and in making an informed decision. As a leading ad tech provider, EXADS can provide publishers with a performant self-serve platform that they can start using in weeks. Contact us to see how we can customize and launch your Publisher Ad Server, today!

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Ana Kealy